I recently ran across an ad in a publication promising to teach men how to express their feelings in writing. The ad promised the instruction would be "discreet." It wasn't clear if discretion was needed for men who didn't want others to know they couldn't express their feelings, or, if the men were concerned someone might discover they were trying to learn.
In either case, I chuckled a bit since expressing myself has, at least until recently, never been a problem. In fact, teachers, a long suffering wife and others will testify that my problem is just the opposite.
For as long as I can remember, I have had a love affair with language. I love the way certain words sound so much I'll repeat them over and over again. I love crossword puzzles and other word games. When writing, I love those times when a single perfect word, and only that word, expresses exactly what I want to say. It is in these moments that using the perfect word, as part of the perfect sentence, which is part of a perfect paragraph, which helps create a perfect story that I experience a Zen-like feeling that all in right in the universe.
I'm not sure how I came about this obsession. Maybe it's because my parents were well read. Dad subscribed to four or five newspapers and Mom read one novel after the next. Maybe I love words because of an elementary teacher who frequently had us get out the dictionary and simply copy down words.
Perhaps it isn't important to understand the source of my love of language. Perhaps it is enough to know that the beauty of language is in its ability to express ideas and move people. Language, often a single word, has the power to motivate, even inspire. A single word can also convey life's difficult moments.
Recently, a single devastating word came into our family's lives. That word is Alzheimer's. Actually, the specific words are early-onset Alzheimer's. Laura Nordeen Anderson Mercer, my love, partner, friend and wife for more than 25 years, received this diagnosis last year.
While rare, it is not unknown for someone as young as Laura to develop Alzheimer's, a progressive brain disease affecting memory, personality and cognitive abilities. Laura is doing well, handling her condition with the same combination of grace, optimism and determination I fell in love with years ago. Laura exercises daily, eats healthy "brain rich" foods, works jig saw puzzles and writes a blog. (If interested, you can read Laura's blog at www.lauramercer.wordpress.com) All these activities are designed to maintain cognitive abilities while we pray for a medical breakthrough.
On my best days I tell everyone that Laura and I have enjoyed over 30 years together and I can't imagine two individuals better suited for each other. Considering this, who am I to complain, knowing that many people are not so fortunate? Other days, when dark thoughts cloud my mind, I ask tougher questions. Why me? Why Laura? She is the kindest, most compassionate person I have ever known. Even now, Laura is doing everything she can to raise awareness and funds to beat Alzheimer's, because as she says, "There are a lot of people out there who need our help."
With God's grace and Laura's typical can-do attitude, we are taking on Alzheimer's together, just as we have every other obstacle we've faced.
Since receiving Laura's diagnosis, I have not written much. When asked why, I reply that I had been "too busy." And, yes, between re-doing our wills, estate planning and more, things have been hectic. The truth, however, is a bit more complicated.
Alzheimer's is a condition that takes things away. For Laura, a small degree of memory is lost every day to the protein-based tangles Alzheimer's creates in her brain. For me, since learning this single word I have been at a loss for any other word. For months, I have tried to express what this word has meant to our entire family. And, for once in my life, words have failed me. Alzheimer's, it seems, is taking both my Laura and my ability to use words.
The irony is both rich and cruel.